How to fight perfectionism imperfectly

October 21, 2020 § Leave a comment


A couple of weeks ago, I talked at the Professional Copywriters’ Network annual conference.

Of course, it was virtual. And for me, that meant props. As I was having to compromise on space and physicality (big part of my presenting style), I decided I’d bring my story to life with a few talismans.

I brought along my rollerskates, a book, a glass of cold coffee masquerading as whisky, and a coupe of champagne. (The champagne was not a prop.)

A few bits from my talk:

  • Honor is presenting a talk about perfectionism
  • The hypothalamus tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline, which elevates heart rate and blood pressure. Other body systems are surpressed to focus on the threat. Exhausting!
  • Treat yourself kindly, treat yourself as a business, treat yourself
  • Invest in understanding your mind, let yourself enjoy your creative practice, get a hobby
  • Honor's final message: fuck fear
  • Honor talks with David McGuire after her talk

I first discussed this topic with Leif, Mr PCN, because I’d been reading a book called How to Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins. Sounds like a cliche of a self-help book – but it got me analysing my perfectionism properly for the first time.

Perfectionism has had a profound impact on me, both within myself and at the hand of others.

And it sucks.

Perfectionism is based in fear. Of not doing a good enough job, of not meeting expectations and of being found out.

It’s a fear response: a technique our brain uses to keep us away from danger. It shapes our reality and makes us, in turn, react, rather than respond intelligently, to perceived threats. That could mean procrastination or obsessing over details to delay the fear of failure, or it could mean being overly defensive when having your work reviewed, because you’re protecting yourself from people seeing flaws or weakness.

I’d thought from time to time that perfectionism was perhaps a little niche and many people would find this merely an amusing interlude in the day. Wrong-o. The conference chat popped off while I was speaking, with many accusing me of some sort of witchcraft that let me see into their very souls. OK, OK, unfair advantage after that little deal I did with His Darkness.

I was overwhelmed by how relevant this group of copywriters found it to their experience, particularly this year. Clearly, with the government allowing freelancers to fight for survival alone, 2020 has hit creatives extremely hard.

A mental health check-in was needed. And not just by them.

At some point, preparing for this talk became a sort of therapy for me. (I do real therapy too, don’t worry – this wasn’t like Americans doing their own surgery on YouTube.)

I kept getting that knotty, guilty feeling of procrastinating and I knew that was about fear. Ironically, my perfectionism was sabotaging my ability to do a great job of something I was passionate about.

Then I went on a skating trip to the seaside, where I sat on the sunny stones and started recording my thoughts on my phone. Putting the thing I was afraid of into a totally positive day and place worked. I had begun.

I left it a few more weeks – marinating – and then thought ‘Well fuck, it’s like six weeks away now.’ I typed up my voice notes because words on a page always makes a copywriter feel better.

I then set myself some guidelines for how I’d approach putting The Thing together. It only seemed fair that I treat myself with the kindness I wanted to show my audience.

And wow – what a revelation! Rather than obsess for hours over how this was going to look, I said no. No, you do not need a colour palette, pictures or anything else that’s just an excuse to torture yourself and avoid the meat of it.

Guidelines (not rules – rules are also punishment) set me free to make the main focus what I wanted to tell people. I’d spent a year actively working on this topic in my own life; what I had to say was the point.

That meant I prepared for this talk honestly. When it came to actually doing it, I did not panic. I even enjoyed myself. Because it’s both easier and harder to be honest and vulnerable than keep spinning a desperate facade. The facade makes us feel like we’re protecting ourselves from danger, but it takes so much energy and prevents us from feeling safe, happy and worthy.

Feeling safe is essential for any creative. We make our best work when we don’t feel pressured not to make mistakes, to deliver perfection and to fight against criticism.

‘Failure’ is just a step on the route to success. I hope I always empower the creatives around me to accept imperfections as part of the process. I hope I can empower myself to live that every day.

You can’t be perfect at anything except being you. Yes, I’m talking directly to YOU, dear reader. You’re the perfect you, and nothing else in life can match that perfection. So stop trying x

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